Latin American Elections or South Eastern Conference Football?

The Dominican Republic just had the opportunity to show its citizens and its neighbors in the region the beauty of democracy during its 2012 presidential election. In an election-heavy year across the globe, I have been monitoring those occurring in the Americas. Many Latin American elections end in allegations of voter fraud, corruption or foreign interference. For example, Nicaragua’s presidential election in November 2011 was tainted by allegations of intimidation and voter fraud. I had hoped that the presidential election in the Dominican Republic would occur without incident and restore democratic hope to people throughout the Americas, especially in the hearts and minds of those who will experience far less democratic “elections” this year (re: Venezuela).

Instead, the aforementioned allegations are being heaped upon the winner, Danilo Medina. Medina won 51% of the vote, thereby preventing a second round run-off. Medina, who was facing five challengers, had only one true competitor, Hipolito Mejia. Mejia, who won 47% of the vote, is contesting the results. Mejia has chosen not to concede and is pushing forth with his allegations of vote-buying ($15 a vote) and other forms of fraud. Sadly, according to an Associated Press report, election observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) confirmed incidents of vote-buying by both parties. However, the same report notes that the election observers did not believe that a few isolated incidents were enough to taint the outcome of what the OAS deemed to be a “successful” election.

If the OAS is going to admit that there are incidents of voter fraud, how can Dominicans and other Americans have faith in the democratic process? The OAS is just perpetuating the idea that Latin American elections are by and large, not truly democratic. This acceptance of voter-fraud, no matter how small, seems to justify any elections’ loser(s) making allegations of such fraud and cheapens the idea of democracy.

I am an avid college football fan, and prefer to watch my favorite team and, in my opinion, the best teams in the country, which reside in the South Eastern Conference (SEC). These and other top college football teams fight among each other to attract top high school athletes every year. It is well known that many of these programs have been guilty of providing extra “benefits” or “incentives” to athletes who attend one school over another, which has promoted the mantra: if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying. While this culture of doing whatever it takes to beat the competition might be characterized as cheating, there are consequences if a school is caught doing so. The governing body of college athletics, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), hands out punishments to those schools that violate its policies and provide benefits outside of those deemed permissible under NCAA guidelines.

I acknowledge that it is difficult to equate elections with college football; however, the NCAA has a history of handing down penalties, when it has proof of misconduct, to restore faith in the institution of collegiate athletics. In the case of the recent Dominican presidential election, neither the OAS nor the Dominican Electoral Commission handed down any form of punishment, while the losing candidate is out screaming to the media and the public that he has been defrauded during the democratic process. If we follow the logic SEC football programs: at least the candidates involved in the election in the Dominican Republic are trying (cheating), but there needs to be more oversight and true enforcement of the consequences outlined for candidates caught violating the democratic rules of election.

The United States no longer is the NCAA of the hemisphere. It has lost much of its influence, but it needs to become more involved if it wishes to remain the beacon of democracy. I am not suggesting unilateral condemnation or action. Instead I advocate for either increased US engagement with the hemisphere to make the OAS more effective or the creation of another entity to replace the OAS and function as the NCAA when overseeing elections. I also call upon the other countries in the hemisphere to become more involved in the promotion and protection of democracy. The Dominican Republic and its Electoral Commission need to shape up. They are not alone in the hemisphere, but only the most current example of deteriorating democratic standards, a trend reminiscent of the attitudes of SEC football programs. If voter-fraud becomes accepted as the cost of doing business, the whole institution of democracy will be weakened and the peoples of the Americas will lose their faith in this form of governance.

Keep your eyes open for how much candidates try (cheat) in other elections to be held later this year: Mexico, Venezuela, and the United States.

– Max Rava

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